Saturday, December 28, 2002

Ex-President Aboard Iran-140


The reformist daily has quoted former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as saying he would fly on the home-made Iran-140 plane to dispel security concerns with the plane. "I will fly on Iran-140 in one of my domestic visits to prove the safety of this Iranian-made plane," he was quoted as saying. A joint venture of Iran and Ukraine, Iran-140 was launched last February during the festivities marking the triumph anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

I can't remember the date, but it was earlier this year. I wonder if he'll remember his promise? "Ukrainian air companies have so far purchased just three An-140s in as many years; Russian carriers haven't purchased any. No nation other than Iran had voiced interest in buying now."

Lastly, "Iran News" is rather scathing...

Friday, December 27, 2002

Kashani says something positive (sort of). Christmas miracles?

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Conversation on the beach from Herzliya, Israel (or "Occupied Palestine" if I'm writing for an Iranian government newspaper). Really scary, I hope the Palestinian (or "Arab" if I'm writing for a right-wing Israeli newspaper) is not representative of his people. If there are any Palestinians out there who are against suicide bombing I can't h-e-a-r them. Have you heard of any Palestinians like Jeff Halper who I saw on BBC World once? (OK, Elias Chacour is the best example I can think of. Perhaps Iranian and Western media is biased somehow, so that I don't hear peaceful Palestinian voices.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Crash: Conspiracy theories again.

"...a conservative Iranian newspaper, Jam-e-Jam, speculated that there could have been a "Zionist" (Israeli) conspiracy behind the crash.

"Considering the presence of Russian experts, sabotage is not out of the question," the paper said, noting the presence of Mossad agents in Turkey where the plane had stopped to refuel."

Yes, Merry Christmas everybody. Before I forget I need to link back to the geographical blog index that lists me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Saudi Arabia teaches children hate.

Sheikh Majed 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Firian recently stated in the Suleiman Bin Muqiran mosque in Riyadh: "Muslims must ... educate their children to Jihad. This is the greatest benefit of the situation: educating the children to Jihad and to hatred of the Jews, the Christians, and the infidels; educating the children to Jihad and to revival of the embers of Jihad in their souls. This is what is needed now ..."

Usenet article about Iran crash. "Never put all your eggs in one basket."

Another article about Antonov safety. I wouldn't fly in an Antonov or Tupolev... but it's still safer than the road, no? I vaguely remember something about Rafsanjani saying this year he would fly in a certain kind of plane to prove it was safe... had to be this one, didn't it? I'll try to find the quote.

There was a priceless comment to the previous article:

begin quote

Media coverage of the event in Britain and abroad has skewed decisively in favor of the rioters, with many editorials urging their readers to consider the centuries of oppression Catholics have suffered at the hands of the English. Most dramatic of all was Independent columnist Robert Fisk, who called a press conference to express his solidarity with the rioters before attempting to nail himself to a cross.

The day's events were punctuated by a statement from Pope John Paul II, who, despite his advanced age and physical frailty, had strong words for the British government. "O God," said the Pontiff to the ululating throng below, "shake the ground under Tony Blair's feet. Shoot lightning bolts up the Queen's ass. Destroy your enemies the Presbyterians, the sons of pigs and monkeys."

When questioned about his remarks afterward, the Pope replied, "I got a right to be hostile. My people been persecuted."

end quote

Truly hilarious "little green footballs" piece about the reaction of British Catholics to a BBC documentary.

"Following the broadcast of a BBC documentary suggesting that Jesus may have been conceived as the result of an illicit affair or of Mary's rape by a Roman soldier, enraged British Catholics poured out of churches after evening mass, smashing store windows, overturning cars, and attacking anyone of Middle Eastern appearance. "

Monday, December 23, 2002

While randomly trawling the net, I came across an Iran hostage's recollections. Are there any lessons about or for the Iran of today there?

"[Hossein, a captor] began by telling me that it was all over, that we were all going home, and that Iran was finally going to be free from outside interference so Iranians could have the kind of country they wanted. I responded that it sounded good, but that I was sure it was not going to happen because, in my view, Iranians lacked the necessary self-discipline to keep the past from repeating itself.

Hossein said he did not understand. I noted that governing a nation and permitting at least some degree of freedom (which Hossein and his cohorts always maintained would be the case in Iran) required great tolerance on the part of the authorities. I said that the government of such a country could not lock someone away or execute them just because someone with the power to do so did not like something the person said or did. I told him that rules and laws had to be applied to all citizens equally and that it took governmental and personal self-discipline to make this work. Looking him directly in the eyes, I told him that nothing I had seen, heard, or experienced in my time in Iran gave me any indication he and his fellow Iranians had any understanding of this. The revolutionary government was unwilling to grant its citizens any measurable degree of true freedom, and there was not, in my opinion, a snowball's chance in hell that it would.

Hossein rebutted my comments, using the same idealistic revolutionary rhetoric that I had heard so many times, from so many Iranians. He ended by repeating that all Iran's problems had been caused by outsiders, most notably by America, and that now everything was going to be good in Iran. I did not carry the debate further. He tried to chitchat for a few minutes, but, when he realized that I had no interest in a congenial farewell, he said he had many things to do. He then stood and wished me good luck. I shrugged, and he left."

What was that Santayana quote again?

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Saddam's son wrote a 320-page thesis on the future of the Arab nation. I don't think Arabs have much future, so how can he write that much? If you see any discussion of this on the net I'd be interested to hear of it.

OK, Student's Day passed. What's my evaluation...? Over the last 16 days I don't believe all that much happened. The people are apathetic and weary, "bi bokhar" (without steam). Besides Tehran is too cold for protests. And too cold for me too, but I'll return there soon.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Open letter to Mr Khamenei in Farsi by an Iranian professor, translated here to English.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Washington Times article about a planned interview with bin Laden in Iran. I don't rate WT's credibility very high, but sometimes news makes good fiction too. :-)
Iranian economy article from the Asia Times... saying nothing will change.

"... at present, different teams of international financial sectors are visiting Iran to help implement reform programs; but, one by one, they have all become convinced that this show of reform is just that - a show."

Prediction: If "nothing" happens tomorrow on Students' Day, nothing will happen for a long time. Khatami broke his tradition and isn't talking to students.

It's Eid-el-Fitr, and everywhere on the streets people are sitting behind desks with boxes for collections. Remember the poor people at this time, so they can have sweets to celebrate the end of Ramazan.

Also picked up the Economist, again, and saw the most ridiculous censorship I've seen so far (well, OK, maybe the black squares topped it). There was a picture of the August 2000 convention Tipper and Al Gore kiss (p45 of November 23 edition) and the censor had used Nikko to cover the mouth area of both parties. It is so weird... so much like America in some ways - any violence is OK, but any form of "love" being shown and it gets an R or NC-17. Here there's no classification scheme, only banned or not banned, so kids can watch any kind of violence. Of course Tipper and Al are married... but if I think too hard about this I'll go crazy, so I'll stop! Suffice it to say it's somewhere between America and the Taliban.

(The picture was almost exactly like the AP version same cropping, same angle, same kiss, just the Economist one is a few seconds before.)

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Ramazan is ending (whew).

An article on the Alavi foundation and a story about a film made about the flipside of "Not Without My Daughter" - "Without My Daughter", directed by Alexis Kouros. I can't find any of his films on IMDB. But he made "Waiting for Godot at De Gaulle" about the unbelievable story of Mehran Karimi Naseri.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

According to Afarinesh, quoted in Iran News Khatami may not speak to Iranian students on Students'' Day, December 7. Who knows when Ramazan will end, that is, when Eid-el-Fitr will be? Will political factors influence it?

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Again I was at Sharif. But the student protests have lost their momentum. Apathy has returned.

This morning, I talked to a taxi driver who works 16 hours a day for 300,000 tomans a month ($US375).

It is mourning for Imam Ali time, so the faces of women on billboards have been covered by squares of black cloth. This could have something to do with makeup, or maybe just lipstick - red is a bad colour.

Also, it snowed today for the first time...

Monday, November 18, 2002

In Asia Times, a great article about Iranian democracy. Just as Iranians had to learn about automobiles, so now they are only learning about democracy. "The honorable step for Khatami would be to resign."

One day, a book by Omid Souresrafil, "Revolution In Iran: The Transition To Democracy" will appear. His last book, "The Islamic Success" (!!) in 1996 about Iran, a piece of regime apologia if ever there was one, was not good to say the least... the most obvious question being, if Iran is so great, why does the author choose to live in Sydney? (And where did he learn to write English?) And perhaps by the time it comes out, like by the time the Economist Survey comes out, everything will have changed anyway.

I was at Sharif yesterday, but I didn't see anything strange. However today there was a big gathering there with clashes. But, I would still predict nothing is going to come of it.

From outside Iran, it must seem as if BIG THINGS are happening. But here, life goes on... most people don't care, there is so much apathy, even among the young. It's nothing like the 386 generation in Korea was, otherwise things might have changed by now.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

WOW. There are some very courageous people here. Aghajari not to appeal death verdict!!

An interesting and risky move. What is going to happen to this country?

Also of interest, Heritage Foundation's 2003 Index of Economic Freedom. (A way of reading Economist Intelligence Unit reports for cheapskates!) "...Khatami has been hamstrung by opposition from entrenched bureaucrats who permeate the state agencies and by Islamic hard-liners in the judiciary and elsewhere who value ideological purity over economic progress." That will be a recipe for continuing one-way migration.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Wow. Hardliners arrest a leading radical reformist. You can be arrested just for asking questions, so be careful out there!

Thursday, October 31, 2002

This article about uppity Iranian women has a realistic picture of what Iranian female students look like at the moment. Similar picture on Iranmania.
The Economist Survey now has the Iran report slated for January 18, 2003. It used to be November 9, 2002. I hope it's not postponed again.

Road accidents kill 20000 people in Iran per year. "[The deputy chief of traffic police] blamed the high figures on ... the scant resources of police to enforce the regulations." Of course, there's plenty of resources to harass young people of the opposite sex who gather together.

I think I've seen at least four articles in the last day encouraging people to invest in Iran... Karroubi, Khatami, Costa, Mazaheri. Sounds like the government is desperate. Remember the Economist Intelligence Unit assessment -
Iran is the second least attractive country in the world to invest in, above Nigeria.

It's starting to rain in Tehran. Last night in Vanak Square, after I finished teaching English, I saw a Paykan which had been involved in an accident being towed by another Paykan. The chain was attached to the bumper/bumper bar on the front of the broken car, which then fell off, blocking traffic on the roundabout. With the wet conditions, traffic will become more dangerous.

I forgot to write about my experiment with Iran News... I downloaded all the English articles since October 2001 (about 15000) and looked for the most common words. The US is mentioned more than Iran, which again points to a lack of self-criticism, although English articles will bias the count.

Is it even possible for me to write something positive? OK - last night, I really enjoyed teaching English for some reason. The school used the Passages book. We discussed the differences between friendship among men and friendship among women to start with, and my class for some reason generally agreed with the Deborah Tannen thesis - men gather together to see sport, talk about cars etc and women to talk about work, family, cooking, gossip. So you see, Iran is not like another world compared to the West!

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

From SlashDot a report about Saddam's Inbox being hacked.

The Economist Survey has put "TBC" for Iran in 2003, meaning To Be Confirmed, I suppose. I'd like to see their report on Iran fairly early on in the year. In the meantime the best report on Iran, if you want to learn about its politics and the future, is still the International Crisis Group's report.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Travel alerts in the good old days and now.

Mr Bin Laden wrote a will, sounds just like Hitler did before he died.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Reporters sans frontieres publishes their first press freedom index. There's a high correlation between human development, GDP per capita and press freedom. Iceland sounds like a really good place, they've got Bjork, an unspoiled environment, a very high standard of living, and the world's freest press.

I think I'll move there or Japan next. At least I want to visit anyway. It's not surprising all the freak countries (Axis of Evil members, Arab countries) are down the bottom of the list. Israel's (below the PA's!) and Turkey's positions were surprising, the US's less so after September 11 over-reactions. Where was Singapore, though? That's the "surprise" in the UNHDR human development index, so I suspect it would be down the bottom for press freedom.

As for Iran's press, it's "free" but any paper which says the wrong thing gets shut down. RSF has previously reported that Iran is one of the biggest jailers of journalists worldwide. And then there was that recent poll about relations with the US... you get the idea.

Did I forget to say something yesterday? Because of the 12th imam's birthday on Tuesday, Tehran is still nicely decorated with "Christmas" lights, fluoro bulbs, and long lines of colourful beaded lights. Just like Christmas. I should have said something about Alvin Plantinga the famous philosopher visiting Tehran too. Maybe another time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Montazeri backs Khatami in his bid to cut conservatives' powers. It is difficult to know what this means - Montazeri obviously still believes in the Islamic Republic. At the end of Markus Wolf's book, Wolf said he still believed in communism...

Apart from this, nothing much has been happening. The days are getting shorter of course, Tehran is much colder than it was a few days ago. Otherwise, I don't have much to say.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

No wine for Khatami. "Mohammad Khatami, the President of Iran, has declared that he will refuse to sit at the same table as King Juan Carlos of Spain if wine is served during the meal. His initiative has caused a flurry of diplomatic activity." What an arrogant demand. The IR leaders are always going on about cultural imperialism, and now its leader is trying to force his values onto the leaders of other governments. So much for "dialogue between civilizations".

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Back from my trip. It was really strange to see Shrek sitting on the end of the Si-o-seh Bridge in Esfahan. Together with the conference on Islamic arts and grafts, I mean crafts, there was an international children's film festival in Esfahan also. I had a really good time on my trip, thanks to the hospitality of the people I stayed with. Some international travellers clued me in to Bradt travel guides, covering Iraq as well as Iran. There's a Japanese guide to Afghanistan which I am eager to look at also!

In English articles, Iranians want democracy too.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

Kiss leads to call for crackdown in Iran. "They should give her 10,000,000 lashes and cut off her lips so she won't do it again." -- email correspondent.
In Esfahan. At the airport, there was a sign, which I must scan: "We have the pleasure to welcome all the participants to international congres of Islamic Arts and Grafts". Uh huh, yeah, that sounds like the Iran I know. Also in the Shiraz bazaar, they were selling a "Neda and Nazi" set of twin dolls... what is that, a doll where you pull the string and its right arm comes up and says "Heil Hitler!"?

People were smoking marijuana at some of the Persepolis tombs - it was surprising to me, the minimum jail sentence is six months for possession. A little old American lady was very surprised and flattered by the welcome she received from young Iranian women, even though they didn't know each others' language.

OK, one last thing - popping by the Amir Kabir Hostel, there are lots of complaints in the guestbook (written mainly in Japanese) about dual pricing for foreigners. The most extreme example is still Persepolis, 300 tomans for Iranians, 6000 for any foreigner.
And you can still do an Iraq tour starting from Amman in Jordan - you just need five people! Time is running short!!

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Nimrooz this week: Allahu Akhbar, Marg Bar Internet! at the Friday prayers...
Salman Rusdhie comments on the fatwa, Iran reformists, mullahs, September 11 etc.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Not much happening domestically in Iran but I'm going to Shiraz soon. I had a dream last night, bins fulls of rubbish were at the train station. The rubbish I was emptying seemed to be other people's - cigarette butts, and I hate smoking passionately! But then I noticed plastic milk bottles, so it had to be my rubbish. I interpret this as a self-criticism type dream.

"I came back in '85 and the same people who were drinking every night in small bars before the revolution now had big beards and prayed every night in the mosque. People used to have two faces, now they have five. Coming back was a mistake, and I can't blame others for it." Before the revolution, Tohid Square was Kennedy Square; Churchill Street became Bobby Sands Street, and Los Angeles Avenue became Hijab Street!

Since everyone else is linking, MIT Opencourseware will become a great resource. May all universities follow suit.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

A FREE chess program Ruffian by Perola Valfridsson has just appeared and according to people on the Computer Chess Club it is beating the commercial programs easily!
My visitor of last week, who is an English teacher, showed me a question from a Kish Institute test.

2. I like ...........

(a) apple (b) an apple (c) apples (d) the apples

All the answers are correct, though apparently they wanted (c). One of the reasons there are practically no English blogs in Iran is that the standard of English teaching here is so appalling. You get what you pay for, so a private teacher is best, preferably someone who has lived in the West or is a native speaker.

Another question:

7. I always help ..... my mother

(a) to (b) ---- (c) with (d) for

Again, (b), (c) and (d) are correct, though the right answer is (b). Keep in mind it was a beginner test.

What's been happening in Tehran? There was an electronics and computer fair, a conference on "Two Holy Ladies" (Fatima and Mary), and a new mural appeared on Modarres expressway. "The Islamic ummah will forever stand by the side of the Palestinians and against their enemies." What if, as is true in the case of Iran, the Palestinians are their own worst enemies? What should be done?

And what else? The bill to increase presidential powers was presented to parliament. I don't expect much will come of it, or that much will change.

Forgotten history. Can you remember the pre-revolution names of the streets and squares of Tehran? Most Iranians can't. Let's start with the hotels.

Hilton -> Esteghlal
Hyatt -> Azadi Grand Hotel
Intercontinental -> Laleh International
Sheraton -> Homa

So it seems all the five-star hotels in Tehran were built by American companies before the revolution. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The al-Qaeda is working for Mossad link I talked about a few days ago. Not much happening, apathy rules, but I should talk about the spectrum of newspapers in Iran - not that there's much of a reformist press left.
If the link above doesn't work you can find it in the "Press Review" part of the Archive on September 14.

Must write something positive, a visitor today told me that the only positive thing about Iran is the people. I guess she meant the people taken as individuals. I'll do my best to be positive.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Yesterday I talked to a storekeeper studying English from the Headway Intermediate book. He wants to emigrate to Canada. An hour later I met a guy who owns a watch shop, who also has a file number at the embassy. A bit later between Enqelab and Azadi I saw a badly driven car - the driver had his ~2yo son in his lap, of course neither wearing seatbelts, while his wife sat next to him and smoked.

The "Economist" article of September 5th, "Crushing the reformist pillars" hasn't appeared on the net yet - people are respecting copyright! Amazing. And yet, finally, the real size of the protests in July, hyped by Ledeen and SMCCDI is revealed. "Mr Bush latched on to demonstrations in July as evidence of the popular mobilisation. They were nothing of the sort. Their tiny size, and the disproportionate brutality with which they were put down, came as a reminder that Iranians have rarely been so sullenly apathetic, or the forces of suppression so strong." "I accept that there is a sort of hopelessness in our society" admits Khatami. There's not much understanding of this in the outside world, I don't think... Robert Baer had it right in his PBS Frontline interview. Here's the quote I'm thinking of, from February 22, 2002:

"Do you feel America doesn't know Iran?

No, it doesn't know anything about it. Doesn't know anything about it. I have seen no dialogue in this country, in the press, or in academia to suggest to me that we really know what's going on in Iran. We are dealing with myths, misinformation, a press that has no idea. It boils down to women's rights or wishful thinking about Khatami or misperceptions."

A large proportion of the population doesn't actually care about the country at all. And as I've noted, self-criticism is very rare here. You will not find a leader in Iran who is willing to accept any part of the blame for the parlous state of the country, and the people blame the leaders, elected and unelected, not themselves. What did King Faisal of Iraq say about the Iraqi people... something like: there is no Iraqi people, and they will accept any insult? Perhaps it's the same everywhere in the Middle East. I see fights every day over the most trivial things, like the other day when the bus driver got into a fight with a guy trying to board the bus past the bus stop. Yet people will not fight when it comes to the most important things. (Of course part of the explanation for the trivial fights is the bad political and economic situation and the general stress of everyday life.) If Iranians vote with their feet, will that help the country?

I hope I can write something positive soon so all you readers out there will know that Iran is not all doom and gloom...

Monday, September 16, 2002

Two more newspapers banned, I saw a guy reading Golestan, the youth paper, last night. It's only been published for a month.

Today I said to a retired professor of linguistics in a taxi that I wouldn't stay much longer because of lamentable wages (to use Lonely Planet's description). He said there's plenty of money for Islamic causes, missionaries, and religious propagation. Just no money for science. Hmmm, so the explanation that applies for the Arab world's backwardness also applies here? I asked him if he'd read "Animal Farm". I showed him the newspaper picture, a certain leader was standing on a platform and about 20 people were in front of him with their fists raised (basiji). It was obvious who the pig was and who the sheep were. Education can't solve the problem if only 10% can make it to university, and ideological screening applies.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Resalat: Today Brigadier General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, commander of the Iranian revolutionary guards, said concerning the September 11 attacks, "This plot was not masterminded by al-Qaeda. It was masterminded by Mossad and carried out by al-Qaeda.". So with confessions with like this from al-Qaeda members recently it's getting harder for even the most irrational people to live in denial. So they blame the usual conspiracy theory favourites. This is the "big lie" theory in practice from the Iranian leaders. Remember the quote from Hitler:

"...the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper stata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods." -- Hitler, "Mein Kampf"

Resalat is one of the hardliner newspapers. It is difficult to decide sometimes whether the hardliners really believe what they are saying or whether they are just attempting to distract from the government's failings, or just self-denial that Muslims could have been responsible. Westerners can't believe it, but the distraction strategy has worked wonders for 23 years here. Iranians have always been big belivers in conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories enable people to avoid self-criticism and blame others for all their problems. If a large part of the population believes in conspiracy theories, it's quite easy for demagogues to take over, as has happened in many countries.

I'm not sure to what extent Rahim-Safavi's views are held in the general population. But I recently read the 4000 Jews didn't go to work in the WTC on 9/11 theory in an "moderate" English-language daily, "Iran News". I haven't seen the Gallup poll figures for Iran on the September 11 question, but I remember reading the methodology of the poll was suspect.